A Decade To Remember For Merseyside Combat: 2010-2015
By James Lee
As 2020 has posed instrumental global issues, a smaller by-product affected has been sport. As many from Merseyside were forced to wait months to end their 30-year wait for a Premier League title, many have also missed the opportunity to watch the best fighters in the area compete.
Without a doubt, the city of Liverpool has a history of ingrained combat. Fighting is something all from the area do or have done in a sense, either physically, socially or politically. The old saying in Liverpool goes that young people have a choice of football or fighting for sport.
Starting in 1929 when Nelson Tarleton won a British title with one lung to current WBA super-middleweight champion Callum Smith becoming a figurehead for British boxing, Liverpool has claimed the accolade of honing the best combat talent in the UK and the people are missing fighting in the current moment.
As little can be celebrated in the present, it is worth reminiscing on the past decade that was very prosperous for the area. World, European and British titles displayed a prevailing period that grew as the decade did, with the next few years holding promise in the hope of continuing that momentum.
2010 posed a slow start to the decade and the beginning for those who would go on to have major success as the decade progressed.
Tony Bellew won the Commonwealth light-heavyweight title in the Echo Arena, with a first-round finish of Atoli Moore. Two further wins in a year including a tough test against Ovill McKenzie closed out the rest of the year for the Toxteth fighter.
St Helens boxer Martin Murray similarly claimed a Commonwealth title when he beat Peter Mitrevski Jr. at the Bolton Arena. He would also win the WBA Inter-Continental middleweight title later in the year at Bolton’s Reebok Stadium.
Fellow Merseyside boxers Liam Smith, Stephen Smith, David Price and Rocky Fielding would all find success in the year also as they all kept their unbeaten run intact as they were building to more recognisable success.
Callum Smith would also claim silver at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, losing in the final to Northern Ireland’s Paddy Gallagher. His older brother Paul would, unfortunately, lose the British super-middleweight title to James DeGale in a ninth-round TKO at the Echo Arena.
In mixed martial arts, Team Kaobon fighters had mixed success throughout the year. Paul Kelly went 2-1 in the year, Paul Sass had a successful UFC debut and Terry Etim lost to future UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos.
The most notable moment of the year for the city saw Tony Bellew lose a grudge fight against Nathan Cleverly for the WBO light-heavyweight title. Many of the community thought he won the contest, but he would later find redemption both personally and in a title sense.
Also of note, Rocky Fielding won the second Prizefighter: super middleweight tournament and became the first in the history of the series to win by finishing all three of his opponents.
Stephen Smith lost his British featherweight title to Lee Selby, who would go on to claim a world title years later.
Paul Kelly was released from the UFC after losing to Donald Cerrone in a fight that was awarded a fight of the night honour, whereas Paul Sass took his professional record to 12-0 with a win over Michael Johnson at UFC Live: Cruz vs Johnson.
The Smith brothers all went unbeaten in the year, with Callum making his professional debut against Dan Blackwell and Liam winning the vacant Commonwealth light-middleweight title in London.
Rising heavyweight David Price recorded a massive win over Audley Harrison at the Echo Arena to claim the Commonwealth and British heavyweight titles in October before defending both titles a month later against Matt Skelton. The first-round finish of Harrison especially saw his presence in the heavyweight division increase ten-fold.
His friend Tony Bellew won three times in the year as well after losing his first professional fight in the year before.
Quite a notable achievement in this year came from Natasha Jonas, who became the first-ever British female in history to compete in boxing at the Olympics. Jonas was eventually eliminated by Katie Taylor in the quarter-final.
An unfortunate episode in MMA came when Terry Etim lost to Edson Barboza with a knockout that still gets shown in the sport’s highlight reels today. Furthermore, his teammates Paul Sass and Paul Kelly went 1-1 for the year.
David Price suffered two surprising knockout losses to Tony Thompson in the year which derailed his world championship ambitions that have yet to be renovated.
Similarly, Tony Bellew lost a world title bid to Adonis Stevenson in Canada. The ‘Bomber’ would later call the contest the most important fight in his career as he moved up to Cruiserweight afterwards and found his most success.
Martin Murray fought for a world title in Argentina against Sergio Martinez and lost a controversial unanimous decision. He would go on to fight for a world title four times and be unsuccessful in all, despite some dubious calls.
Terry Etim and Paul Sass both retired from the sport after fights in Bellator. Paul Kelly won on a show in Essex in March 2013 before being given a thirteen-year sentence for heroin trafficking two months later.
Additionally in MMA, Rosi Sexton became the first British female to compete in the UFC. Although from the south of England, Sexton trained out of Next Generation MMA in Liverpool city centre and therefore represented the city.
Tony Bellew finally got his revenge against rival Nathan Cleverly with a split decision win at the Echo Arena. The fight was desperately needed and sparked his future run towards a world title at Cruiserweight.
Nothing major happened aside from that with many of the boxers building towards the world stage, which they would approach in later years.
Much like across the decade, Martin Murray would fight for another world title. This time Gennady Golovkin stood across from him, with Murray standing little chance against the recognised great. The loss was followed by another world title defeat later in the year to Arthur Abraham in yet another controversial decision.
Two scousers squared off in a contrasting night for the city as Callum Smith beat Rocky Fielding in the first round at the Echo Arena. The fight would present a rarity in boxing considering both were undefeated and from the same area.
Darren Till made his UFC debut as well to become the first Liverpool fighter since Etim to fight for the sport’s biggest promotion. Likely due to living in Brazil at the time, his triumphant debut failed to attract national attention, but he would earn a lot of that in future years.